When it comes to snarky office malcontents, Aubrey Plaza has the market cornered. On television, she has collected something of a cult as resentful intern April Ludgate in Parks and Recreation, now in its fifth series in the US. Now she has a movie, Safety Not Guaranteed, that is possibly the last word in intern angst. As Darius, an intern at a hip Seattle magazine, she is assigned to help investigate an advertisement for a partner in time travel. Cue Plaza's special variety of deadpan contempt. ''To be honest,'' she says in her comically flat voice, ''it's not hard for me to work up grimness.''
Director Colin Trevorrow's Safety Not Guaranteed was inspired by a real ad asking for ''someone to go back in time with me; bring your own weapons''. Writer Derek Connolly met the author of the ad - a magazine staffer, in fact, but a very eccentric one - and wove something of his character into Kenneth, a nutty inventor played by Mark Duplass. Darius worms her way into Kenneth's confidence, ostensibly to write something satirical about space nuts, but she finds both him and his time machine unexpectedly persuasive.
Plaza has had plenty of intern positions in her time. ''I know what it's like to be at the bottom of the totem pole, to restock the toilet paper and get yelled at for doing it wrong,'' she says. ''I did reception at a hedge fund; I didn't have to dig too deep.'' However, unlike April, Darius is allowed to soften and change. ''Kenneth allows Darius to open up to him, slowly pulling the Band-Aid off,'' Plaza says. ''It's very unusual: a love story with a sci-fi element looming over it and characters who are not predictable. Is Ken crazy or not? Will he cut Darius into little pieces?''
Plaza's greatest experience is in stand-up and improv; her greatest challenge, she says, is to deliver someone else's lines. She was able to improvise scenes with Duplass and Jake Johnson, who plays a jaded senior journalist. ''But the main thing I've learnt from improv is that you have to listen carefully and be very present, whether you're saying lines or not,'' she says. ''The funniest things come out of truth. Darius's sarcasm is funny, but it comes from a real place.''
SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED
Director Colin Trevorrow. Stars Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson. MA15+. Now screening.